No low point to Low’s latest release, ‘The Invisible Way’Published 6:09pm Saturday, March 16, 2013
One of Duluth’s most-well-known bands is celebrating an anniversary in fitting style.
Low is set to release “The Invisible Way,” which will be the band’s 10th album in 20 years.
At first, the album sounds a little more similar to the group’s releases from the 1990s, like “Long Division.” That’s not a stretch, since the group has kept a similar formula for most of its career: slow, melancholy and seemingly simple songs that build through layers and harmonies.
Low consists of married couple Alan Sparhawk, guitars and vocals; his wife, Mimi Parker, drums and vocals; and bassist Steve Garrington.
Low has long been known for using this minimalism and slow tempos, a style often called slowcore — a term the band dislikes.
But at times in recent years, Low has swayed a little from that mold. Songs like “Canada” and “When I Go Deaf” on recent albums feel a bit more monumental than most of the group’s earlier tracks.
Similar to band’s career, “The Invisible Way,” grows slowly across the 11 tracks.
The album opens with “Plastic Cup,” where Sparhawk sings vaguely about mortality and the future. The song displays one of Low’s defining skills: a band taking something simple, in this case a plastic cup, and turning it into something beautiful.
“Plastic Cup” and “Amethyst” open the album on a quiet note, with minimal piano and guitars back Sparhawk and Parker’s vocals.
Through much of the album, Sparhawk sounds a bit angsty, especially on the first few tracks, where he sings “Oh time, it pulls out your eyes. It makes you choose between two lies.”
“So Blue” starts a subtle change on the album, as the songs gradually fill in with more music and the tempo picks up a tick, while still maintaining Low’s slow, bare style.
One change from other Low albums is a heavier dose of Parker singing lead vocals, as she sings the main parts on “So Blue” and “Holy Ghost.” After typically singing lead on one or two songs on an album then backup vocals, Parker sings five of the 11 tracks on “The Invisible Way.” It’s a pleasant change, as her lead songs on 2011’s “C’Mon” were memorable, but somewhat brief. It’s easier to appreciate the contributions of Parker and Sparhawk when they split lead duties.
Even when the tempo picks up a tad on songs, like “Clarence White,” the mix of piano, acoustic guitars and Parker’s simple drumbeats maintain the steady push.
It’s not until “On My Own” that Sparhawk’s heavily distorted guitar returns to close out the tracks and peak the album.
Another change is that Low recorded “The Invisible Way” in a Chicago studio with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Tom Schick, rather than the group’s Duluth studio. Still, low sounds as comfortable as ever.
The album is exactly what people have come to expect from Low. And while there are no surprises, but the album doesn’t suffer because of it. It’s an album best appreciated over multiple listens.